If there is one term that typifies the book of D'varim, it is "transition" - or "avor" in Hebrew, stemming from the root. e.v.r, (ayin, vet/bet, resh) meaning to "traverse, cross over, pass by or through, transgress, get angry/cross, other side, for the sake of and fords, or passageway", being also the root for the word “Hebrew”. This term, with some of those derivatives, shows up many times in Parashat Va’etchanan, which is why we will follow it not only there, but also throughout the book of Dvarim (Deuteronomy). This excursion will also provide an opportunity to observe, once again, patterns of the Hebrew mindset and the compactness of the language, as well as the mutual effect of thought and language on each other. We will see how “avor” lends D’varim its special character, and in turn how it expresses the calling of the People of Yisrael.
In Sh'mot (Exodus) the Hebrews passed over from one state of
existence (slavery) to another (freedom and redemption) as well as to a new
geographical location, by crossing the
Already in Dvarim’s opening verse, we see Moshe addressing
"all Israel on the side of the Jordan – Ever ha'Yarden"
(1:1 italics added). Ever (vowel sounds like in “essence”)
is "the other side", thus rendering the land on the Yarden's
eastern shore, "Ever haYarden". It was also at "Ever ha'Yarden"
where Moshe "began to explain the Torah" (1:5). Sometime later
Yehoshua (Joshua) reminds the Israelites of another "ever" - the place where their forefathers came from,
saying: "Thus says YHVH
the Elohim of Israel: `Your fathers Terah, the father of Abraham and the father
of Nahor, dwelt on the other side [ever] of the River in
old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the
other side [ever] of the River, led him throughout all the
In recounting the wilderness journey and its adventures, Moshe says, "We came through [a'va'rnu] the nations which you passed by [a'va'rtem]… "(Deut. 29:16 italics added). About these nations, he made earlier comments, recalling YHVH’s words to him: "You are passing [ovrim] by the border of your brothers, the sons of Esau" (2:4). And as to the actual event: "And we passed [va'na'vor] and turned beyond our brother the sons of Esau… and we passed [va'na'vor] by way of the Wilderness of Moab" (2:8). “And the time we took to come from Kadesh Barnea until we crossed over [avarnu] the Valley of the Zered was thirty-eight years, until all the generation of the men of war was consumed from the midst of the camp, just as YHVH had sworn to them" (2:14). Although the wording here appears to be recounting technical details, it captures the tragedy that the Israelites brought upon themselves - the passing on of an entire generation. Preceding the crossing of this river (Zered), YHVH exhorted the Israelites: “Now rise up, and go over [e’e’vru] the river Zered! And we went over [va’na’avor] the river Zered” (2:13, italics added).
The next “crossing over"
[o-ver in Hebrew] (2:18) was through the
This was also the land
requested by the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe, who had to meet one
condition: "All you men of valor shall cross over [ta'avru]
armed before your brethren, the children of
In addition to the above promise, there is an even greater one (preceded by the words "Sh'ma Yisrael - Hear O Israel" in 9:1): "Therefore understand today that YHVH your Elohim is He who goes over [ha'over] before you as a consuming fire" (9:3 italics added). And moreover, "YHVH your Elohim Himself crosses over [o’ver] before you; He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua himself crosses over [o’ver] before you, just as YHVH has said" (31:3 italic added). The "crossing over [ovrim] to possess" or "inherit" the land is also an inseparable part of the description of the Land itself, as everything about its conditions constitutes a major change-over and transition from the setting of the desert (for details see 11:10 -12).
And while Moshe was thus
preparing the nation, which he had so greatly nurtured and for whom he had been
willing to give up his life, he did not conceal from them and from posterity
the sad fact that he had "pleaded with YHVH at that time, saying: ‘O my Adonai
YHVH, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand…
I pray, let me cross over [e'ebra] and see the good
land beyond [ever] the
continues to relate his plight, as pronounced by YHVH: "Go up to the top
of Pisgah, and lift your eyes toward the west, the north, the south, and the
east; behold it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over [ta'avor]
text, the covenant and the commandments are not 'passed over' either. In his discourse, Moshe
elaborates extensively on these issues. YHVH made another covenant with the
Children of Yisrael, "in the
Finally, "And it shall
be, on the day when you [plural] cross over [ta'avru] the
Jordan to the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you, that you shall set up
for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. You shall write on
them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over [be'ovre'cha],
that you may enter the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you, a land
flowing with milk and honey, just as YHVH the Elohim of your fathers promised
you. Therefore it shall be, when you [plural] have crossed over [be'ovre'chem]
The root e.v.r, however, is
also being applied to the enemies of Yisrael. Prior to the actual crossing,
Yehoshua sent two spies to Yericho (
Interestingly, the Hebrew translation for Hebrews 6:20, speaking about the Place of the Presence (behind the veil), states that Yeshua has “gone over” (in Hebrew - ‘o’ver’) there for us, as a forerunner.
In closing, let us pause briefly on “va’etchanan”, the title
of our Parasha, which takes us back to its opening verse (3:23) where Moshe
pleads with YHVH to let him cross the Yarden. “And I pleaded”
or implored…” – etchanan – is of the root ch.n.
Note: In the synagogue, the Torah scrolls are placed in an ark called “teiva”. When the representative of the congregation who prays on their behalf stands before the ark, he too is said to be “passing [over] before the teiva”.